3 face trial in FBI agent's death

November 29, 2008 1:57:39 PM PST
Three men authorities say formed a bank robbery ring in central New Jersey - including one who allegedly told investigators he became "addicted" to robbing banks - are scheduled to go on trial Monday for a string of robberies that culminated in the shooting death of an FBI agent last year. Wilfredo Berrios, Efrain Lynn and Francisco Herrera-Genao, all in their 20s and from New Brunswick, face a litany of armed robbery and weapons counts that could carry maximum combined sentences of more than 100 years. A fourth suspect, Michael Cruz, pleaded guilty in January and is expected to testify for the government.

None of the men is charged with causing the death of FBI agent Barry Lee Bush, who was shot and killed by another agent who mistook him for a suspect during the confusion outside the PNC Bank in Readington, Hunterdon County, on April 5, 2007.

However, U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson can take Bush's death into account at sentencing if the men are convicted.

Bush, 52, of Forks Township, Pa., was the 51st FBI agent to die in the line of duty and the first in New Jersey. The agent who fired the shot was transferred to another state last year. An internal investigation determined that the agent's actions fell within the bureau's rules governing the use of deadly force, though he still could face sanctions.

"This is a very sad case from virtually every perspective," said defense attorney Jack Furlong, who represents Berrios.

In court papers filed in February, Lynn is quoted as telling investigators that the group was prepared to "Go at it" and referred to the movie "44 Minutes" when discussing what they would do if they encountered police.

The movie is a dramatization of a 1997 bank robbery in North Hollywood, Calif., in which 11 policemen and six civilians were wounded by two heavily armed suspects in a drama that was captured live on television.

A copy of the video was found in Lynn's car, according to court filings.

Lynn sought to have his statements to investigators excluded and has claimed they were made under duress.

"I was told that, unless I cooperated with their investigation, I would never see my daughter," he said in court papers.

Thompson denied Lynn's motion last week.

Acting on a tip, police and an FBI SWAT team tailed Berrios, Cruz and Herrera-Genao - Lynn was in court that day on a separate matter and was not at the bank - to Readington and confronted Berrios and Herrera-Genao as they exited while Cruz waited in a car across the road.

Berrios and Cruz were arrested on the spot, while Herrera-Genao hid in nearby woods overnight before being apprehended the next day.

The suspects were armed but did not fire their weapons and had not robbed the bank, according to the FBI. They are charged with four other robberies in which they brandished weapons and, in three instances, fired them inside the banks.

Herrera-Genao told investigators that he had misgivings about robbing the PNC Bank because he didn't like its location, according to court filings. He also described some of the other robberies mentioned in the indictment, including one in which a female teller was struck by flying glass after the suspects fired shots.

"I had only intended to do one bank robbery, but I got addicted," Herrera-Genao allegedly told investigators.

Jury selection is scheduled for Monday, and opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday.

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